An Incident-Level Profile of TASER Device Deployments in Arrest-Related Deaths
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While a considerable body of research has investigated the physiological risks associated with the TASER device, much less research attention has been devoted to examining the nearly 400 police–citizen encounters in which a suspect has died after the device was used. As a result, there are numerous unanswered questions regarding officer, suspect, and incident-level characteristics of these arrest-related deaths (ARDs), as well as the extent to which patterns in these characteristics may have changed over time. The current study seeks to inform the discourse surrounding these death cases through a descriptive analysis of the near-universe of ARDs involving a TASER device deployment from 2001-2008 (n = 392). Using a unique data triangulation methodology that captures both media (n = 392) and medical examiner reports (n = 213), the authors characterize the geographic distribution of ARDs and find parallels between that distribution, state population, the number of officers per state, crime levels per state, and TASER device sales patterns. Also, an incident-level analysis shows that these ARDs were dynamic encounters between suspects who were frequently intoxicated and who actively and aggressively resisted police, and officers who were drawing deeply into their arsenal of force options in an attempt to control and arrest them. Cause of death was most commonly identified as drugs, heart problems, or Excited Delirium Syndrome. Last, longitudinal analysis showed consistency in most incident, suspect and officer characteristics, though key aspects of suspect resistance, including level of aggression and persistence after TASER device exposure, changed notably over time. The article concludes with a discussion of implications for policy and practice with regard to these rare but fatal police–citizen encounters.
Criminology not elsewhere classified